LM Live Recap: NYC Design Experts on the Architecture of Art and Performance 

06/01/2023 in
LM Live Recap: NYC Design Experts on the Architecture of Art and Performance 

When it comes to performing arts venues and architectural design, New York City is hard to beat. The stages, museums, art galleries and concert halls that are home to our cultural enterprises each have their own innovations and challenges: acoustics, ceiling heights and seating, to name a few. And all of these details have to reconcile with the political environment and institutional imperatives — not to mention budget costs. Digging into the complex intersection of architecture and performance, LM Live hosted a conversation with some of the city’s leading architects at the Studio inside 7 World Trade Center.

Critic Paul Goldberger moderated the Wednesday panel, which included Joshua Ramus of REX, Jaime Krone of the Guggenheim Foundation, David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group and Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects. The discussion covered their experiences with projects such as the PAC NYC and the Guggenheim Museum — and how the unique architecture behind these projects fits the demands of the ever-changing art world. 

“The connection between architecture and performance has always been a complicated one,” Goldberger began. “After all, architecture is, in itself, performative and there can be an innate conflict between the role architecture plays on its own and as a setting for a different kind of dynamic, like performance of dance, theater, music.”  

The panelists also spoke about the role of flexibility when designing a performance venue. Is neutrality also a goal? “The modernist notion of flexibility — a blank slate on which you can do any kind of activity — is really constraining,” Ramus said. “It demands an enormous amount of intellectual and economic capital to do anything with it. We’ve seen that specificity actually gives you far more freedom than the notion of flexibility we’ve been using for the last 100 years.” 

Krone suggested that the Guggenheim in and of itself “is a performer” due to its ability to constantly reveal new perspectives about a work of art. “When you embrace it on that level,” she said, “it leads you to invention and new ways of thinking. It has been a major creative catalyst for doing new things in the space and opening up the door for seeing things in new ways.”

Rockwell noted that performing arts centers have to address the choreography of getting into the building. “The show doesn’t start just at the performance space,” he said, adding how the Guggenheim “is an example of one of the beautiful integrations of the city. Thinking about PAC NYC, that part of the audience’s experience — how they’re brought in, how they’re engaged — will have a lot to do with how they experience what they see.” 

Another topic of discussion was the Park Avenue Armory, a 143-year-old site which still plays a big role in the city’s performing art scene. “When you’re designing to rub up against something that’s historic,” Pasquarelli said, “that can be a really fertile way to begin to think about stuff. When I see buildings like that that have been repurposed, that’s an incredible celebration.” 

The panel closed out by elaborating on PAC NYC’s striking exterior, which is visible from the Studio’s windows. “I really love the facade,” Goldberger said, “because you’ve found a way to make a building look modern in every possible way, and yet it has a richness of texture that many people claim they miss in so much new architecture.”

You can listen to a recording of the panel discussion here.

photos: Ann-Sophie Fjellø-Jensen

Tags: architecture, lm live

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